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Old 03-06-2018, 11:39 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Default Mandelstam the Prophet

I have been greatly enjoying Christian Wiman's translations of selected poems by Osip Mandelstam. This early lyric strikes me as prophetic:

Let Cities Subside To Their Names

Let cities subside to their names,
Brief meanings that flare in the ear:
Washington, London, Moscow, Rome:
Existence is our home, and is here.

Let presidents rule what they can.
Let preachers have their narrow door.
Houses and altars hallowed of man
Are houses and altars, no more.
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Old 03-06-2018, 12:46 PM
John Riley John Riley is online now
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I love working to "get" a Mandelstam poem. It pays off every time. The separation of one's locus from "brief meanings that flare in the ear" moves me. The second stanza is a little more didactic but it's still powerful. It's a 20th-century metaphysical poem.

Thanks for posting this.
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Old 03-06-2018, 03:55 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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I've got a W.S. Merwin Mandelstam I'm fond of, but that Wiman version seems very nice. The ending seems ambiguous to me - nothing more or no longer? And I wonder whether the Russian plays that game. I'll have to ask my wife.
My favorite Mandelstam is the Stalin epigram. Here's the Merwin/Brown version:

The Stalin Epigram

Our lives no longer feel ground under them.
At ten paces you can’t hear our words.

But whenever there’s a snatch of talk
it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer,

the ten thick worms his fingers,
his words like measures of weight,

the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip,
the glitter of his boot-rims.

Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses
he toys with the tributes of half-men.

One whistles, another meows, a third snivels.
He pokes out his finger and he alone goes boom.

He forges decrees in a line like horseshoes,
One for the groin, one the forehead, temple, eye.


John
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Old 03-11-2018, 01:58 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Here, for comparative purposes, is Wiman's translation of the "The Stalin Epigram:"

The Stalin Epigram

We live, and love, but our lives drift like mist over what we love.
Two steps we are a whisper; then, gone.

Still, we gather, we gossip, we laugh like humans,
And just like that our Kremlin gremlin comes alive:

His grubworm clutch, all oil and vile,
His deadweight deadwords, blonk blonk.

Listen: his jackhammering jackboots: even the chandelier shakes.
Look: a hairy cockroach crawls along his grin

At the cluck-cluck of turkey-lackeys, and he busts a gut
At the wobblegobble dance one does without a head.

Tweet-tweet, meow-meow, Please sir, more porridge:
He alone, his grub growing hard, goes No! goes Now! goes Boom!

Half-cocked blacksmith, he lifts from hell's hottest forge
His latest law and with it brands a breast, a groin, a brain,

And like a pig farmer who's plucked a blackberry from a vine,
Savors the sweet spurt, before he turns back to his swine.
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Old 03-11-2018, 05:36 PM
John Riley John Riley is online now
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There is certainly a difference in translations. I think the word count gap is pretty wide. I know no Russian, regretfully. I do like the wobblewobbles and meow-meow in Wimans but have not idea how they connect to the original.
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Old 03-11-2018, 06:56 PM
Ken Brownlow Ken Brownlow is offline
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The Stalin Epigram
cost him his sanity then his life, I wonder has anyone ever suffered so much for writing a poem.



Sorry, I was just thinking out loud.

Last edited by Ken Brownlow; 03-11-2018 at 06:58 PM.
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Old 03-13-2018, 11:43 PM
Ken Brownlow Ken Brownlow is offline
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On Ovid and Mendalstam


From Neil Ascherson’s book: Black Sea


Many readers find Tristia absurd, a wall of self-pity and self-obsession.

But there is much more to Tristia than complaint. Even if Ovid’s life there cannot have been the uninterrupted misery he proclaimed, everything he wrote from Tomi was a plea for remission of sentence, lamentation designed to arouse pity in Augustus…

…ventriloquising as feigned experience all the horrors and discomfits which a cultivated Roman reader would imagine to accompany ‘life among the barbarians’.

In the first book, of Tristia, Ovid remembers the last long sleepless night at home, the bewilderment about what clothes or luggage to take with him in the morning, his wife in tears, the stricken household slaves standing about.

It was this passage which Osip Mendalstam had in mind when he wrote his own marvellous ‘Tristia’ in 1920. At one level, Mendalstam seems to be anticipating his own end in the Soviet Tomi of Stalin’s labour camps. There the voice is Ovidian and mourning. But then secret joy, un-Latin, unexplainable, begins to rise up as if a forced parting were also rebirth into an unknown land.



I have studied the science of saying goodbye

in bareheaded laments at night.

Oxen chew, and the waiting stretches out,

it is the last hour of my keeping watch in this city,

and I respect the ritual of the cock-loud night,

when, lifting their load of sorrow for the journey,

eyes red from weeping have peered into the distance,

and the crying of women mingled with the Muses singing . . .

Who can know when he hears the sound of goodbye

what kind of separation lies before us . . .?






Tristia
by Osip Mandelstam

I have studied the Science of departures,
in nightâ€s sorrows, when a womanâ€s hair falls down.
The oxen chew, thereâ€s the waiting, pure,
in the last hours of vigil in the town,
and I reverence nightâ€s ritual cock-crowing,
when reddened eyes lift sorrowâ€s load and choose
to stare at distance, and a womanâ€s crying
is mingled with the singing of the Muse.

Who knows, when the word ‘departure†is spoken
what kind of separation is at hand,
or of what that cock-crow is a token,
when a fire on the Acropolis lights the ground,
and why at the dawning of a new life,
when the ox chews lazily in its stall,
the cock, the herald of the new life,
flaps his wings on the city wall?

I like the monotony of spinning,
the shuttle moves to and fro,
the spindle hums. Look, barefoot Deliaâ€s running
to meet you, like swansdown on the road!
How threadbare the language of joyâ€s game,
how meagre the foundation of our life!
Everything was, and is repeated again:
itâ€s the flash of recognition brings delight.

So be it: on a dish of clean earthenware,
like a flattened squirrelâ€s pelt, a shape,
forms a small, transparent figure, where
a girlâ€s face bends to gaze at the waxâ€s fate.
Not for us to prophesy, Erebus, Brother of Night:
Wax is for women: Bronze is for men.
Our fate is only given in fight,
to die by divination is given to them.
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Old 03-14-2018, 01:51 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Lovely. Thanks for posting it.

John
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